Under a public consultation document issued last Thursday, the European Commission (EC) is urging Europe’s national telecom regulators to mandate the opening of next generation access (NGA) broadband fiber networks to rivals in hopes of spurring competition and the introduction of new services. Voicing concern that the European Union (EU) is lagging behind the U.S. and Japan with respect to fiber optic network deployment, EC Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said the goal is the adoption of a common framework for national rules “that will not only encourage the necessary substantial investments in fiber but also strengthen broadband competition.” In comparison to the 229 million copper lines currently in service throughout the EU, the EC estimates that only one million fiber NGA lines are now in place. Although experts predict that up to €20 billion (US $29.46 billion) will be spent on NGA networks throughout Europe by 2011, EC officials claim that a disparity in regulatory approaches used by various EU member states is causing uncertainty for investors that, in turn, is slowing funding and construction of NGA networks. In the United Kingdom, for example, disputes between BT and national regulator Ofcom over rates for competitive access to BT’s fiber optic network have delayed fiber deployment throughout that nation. By contrast, the decision of German regulators last year to grant Deutsche Telekom (DT) a regulatory “holiday” that exempts the carrier from opening its fiber network to rivals has sparked protests from competitors and criticism from the EC. The consultation document asserts that national regulatory authorities should ensure competitive access to NGA fiber facilities deployed by incumbent operators at rates that allow incumbents to achieve returns on their investments in excess of their 8-12% average cost of capital. The EC is accepting public comments on the consultation document through November 14.